Studio: Magnet Releasing
Director: Roxanne Benjamin
Writer: Roxanne Benjamin
Producer: David A. Smith, Christopher Alender, Roxanne Benjamin
Stars: Karina Fontes, Casey Adams, Emily Althaus, Miranda Bailey, Susan Burke, Matt Peters, Martin Spanjers, Brodie Reed, John Getz
A novice park ranger lost in a forest is forced to spend a frightening night guarding a dead body.
You won’t find much suspense in “Body at Brighton Rock,” but you will certainly see a lot of setup.
In the first of several montages, the movie’s preferred currency for arbitrarily advancing its runtime, we’re introduced to neophyte park ranger Wendy. Late for the morning safety meeting, Wendy lightly trots at a barely hurried pace, bumping into more than one person while struggling to swap her sneakers for hiking boots like she’s about to trip in a 1990s rom-com.
Wendy’s supervisor embarrasses her for trying to sneak into the meeting, which earns a smirk from sassy BFF Maya. Maya’s crush on a coworker then has her begging Wendy for a shift switch to be closer to her would-be beau. Trouble is, Wendy isn’t qualified for Maya’s assignment of posting safety notices on a hiking trail, as evidenced by the snickers Wendy receives from Maya and fellow ranger Craig, who aren’t confident in Wendy’s outdoor competence. “I’ll be fine,” Wendy assures them. “How hard could it be?”
Essentially, Wendy’s barebones background tells us she is absent-minded, unreliable, inexperienced, and irresponsible. Not bad for six minutes of exposition. But it is bad for establishing a heroine whose upcoming predicament should stoke audience sympathy. Instead, we’re led to think, “serves her right” since every trial and tribulation from here on out can be traced directly back to Wendy’s chronically clumsy carelessness.
Cue another music montage of Wendy stapling flyers to trees, dancing to a retro pop song playing through her earbuds (isn’t she fun!), and popping a squat to refill her water bottle. Eventually, and I mean that in the longest possible sense of that word, Wendy loses her map and then loses herself when she lands at a rocky peak in an off the grid section of woods.
During this entire time, the closest “Body at Brighton Rock” comes to sniffing at a thrill is having the camera come in close on Wendy’s foot as though she might slip and fall. She doesn’t, which means we have to stick it out with Wendy for another hour or so.
Following several more minutes of movie that can also be summarized with “eventually,” Wendy discovers a body. Panting with mild panic, Wendy radios back to HQ only to learn that she is so far from the beaten path, a search party won’t be able to extract her until sunrise. Wendy will have to stay with the dead man overnight and keep the area intact in case it turns out to be a crime scene.
That’s exactly what Wendy, and by extension the audience, does for the next twenty minutes. We sit with her and the body waiting for something to happen. Wendy explores a tent. She also explores a cave. She almost seems to be collecting clues of some kind. Yet like the first act forgetting to foster suspense, the second act fails to found a meaningful mystery. It would be one thing if Wendy had to figure out how the man died or determine his true identity. But because he has even less backstory than Wendy, there’s no mystique in the narrative for a viewer to invest in.
Mercifully, a rare breath of intrigue arrives at the movie’s midpoint when a mysterious man suddenly appears by the body. Dodging Wendy’s directives with cagey behavior, and being the only other person appearing onscreen during Wendy’s ordeal, there’s no question he has ill intentions. But after some cursory creepiness and a few conspicuous close-ups that come into play later, the man exits, leaving us alone with Wendy for another series of inconsequential scenes.
Facing a shortage of shocks to keep viewers from checking their phones for more interesting entertainment, “Body at Brighton Rock” resorts to dream sequences and hallucinations to break up back-half boredom. Eventually, a word that continues working well to succinctly reduce the plot description, “Body at Brighton Rock” arrives at a two-fold conclusion featuring an oddly choreographed climactic faceoff and an even odder final reveal. Use one hand to scratch your scalp over some suspect CGI and the other to pinch your nose bridge regarding the “that’s it?” ending.
For her first feature, writer/director Roxanne Benjamin appears entrenched in short film habits, fighting to fashion a long-legged story from an idea for a single situation. Plug in a plain protagonist ambling along at a casual pace and what comes out in the wash is a colorless thriller in urgent need of excitement, eeriness, or any incentive to remain engaged.
Review Score: 45